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Oracle: a good home for MySQL?

I’m not able to attend the whole of Oracle OpenWorld / JavaOne, but I have sneaked in to MySQL Sunday, which is a half-day pre-conference event. One of the questions that interests me: is MySQL in safe hands at Oracle, or will it be allowed to wither in order to safeguard Oracle’s closed-source database business?

It is an obvious question, but not necessarily a sensible one. There is some evidence for a change in direction. Prior to the takeover, the MySQL team was working on a database engine called Falcon, intended to lift the product into the realm of enterprise database management. Oracle put Falcon on the shelf; Oracle veteran Edward Screven (who also gave the keynote here) said that the real rationale for Falcon was that InnoDB would be somehow jiggered by Oracle, and that now both MySQL and InnoDB were at Oracle, it made no sense.

Context: InnoDB is the grown-up database engine for MySQL, with support for transactions, and already belonged to Oracle from an earlier acquisition.

There may be something in it; but it is also true that Oracle has fine-tuned the positioning of MySQL. Screven today emphasised that MySQL is Oracle’s small and nimble database manager; it is “quite performant and quite functional”, he said; the word “quite” betraying a measure of corporate internal conflict. Screven described how Oracle has improved the performance of MySQL on Windows and is cheerful about the possibility of it taking share from Microsoft’s SQL Server.

It is important to look at the actions as well as the words. Today Oracle announced the release candidate of MySQL 5.5, which uses InnoDB by default, and has performance and scalability improvements that are dramatic in certain scenarios, as well as new and improved tools. InnoDB is forging ahead, with the team working especially on taking better advantage of multi-core systems; we also heard about full text search coming to the engine.

The scalability of MySQL is demonstrated by some of its best-known deployments, including Facebook and Wikipedia. Facebook’s Mark Callaghan spoke today about making MySQL work well, and gave some statistics concerning peak usage: 450 million rows read per second, 3.5 million rows changed per second, query response time 4ms.

If pressed, Screven talks about complexity and reliability with critical data as factors that point to an Oracle rather than a MySQL solution, rather than lack of scalability.

In practice it matters little. No enterprise currently using an Oracle database is going to move to MySQL; aside from doubts over its capability, it is far too difficult and risky to switch your database manager to an alternative, since each one has its own language and its own optimisations. Further, Oracle’s application platform is built on its own database and that will not change. Customers are thoroughly locked in.

What this means is that Oracle can afford to support MySQL’s continuing development without risk of cannibalising its own business. In fact, MySQL presents an opportunity to get into new markets. Oracle is not the ideal steward for this important open source project, but it is working out OK so far.

Related posts:

  1. Why the EU should not worry about Oracle and MySQL
  2. Android: good or bad for Java? Oracle claims harm but I am sceptical
  3. Sun gets a database manager, but Oracle owns its InnoDB engine
  4. Why Oracle is immoveable in the Enterprise
  5. Schwartz vs Mickos on MySQL and open source

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